If you’re an essential oil user, you should keep some carrier oils on hand. And you probably already have some around the house—common carrier oils can be found in your kitchen cupboards or your medicine cabinet.
What Are Carrier Oils?
Carrier oils are used to dilute essential oils for topical application. Think about the term “carrier oil”—their purpose is to “carry” the essential oils safely to your skin.
Why Do I Need Carrier Oils for Essential Oils?
Essential oils are distilled from the leaves, bark, roots or flowers of a botanical. They are highly concentrated.
If you’ve already started using essential oils, you know that a few drops go a long way! Because they are so highly concentrated, essential oils may cause irritation or adverse reactions if applied directly to the skin.
Using carrier oils to dilute essential oils before application circumvents that problem.
Plus, carrier oils each have their own potential benefits for your skin, so the essential oil + carrier oil combo gives you all the aromatherapy benefits you’re after with skincare bonuses to boot.
Choosing The Best Carrier Oils
When choosing carrier oils, always look for pure, cold-pressed, unrefined oils with no additives.
Cold-pressed oils are processed without heat, which allows them to retain their natural properties.
Unrefined oils go through minimal processing, helping to retain their richness and strength.
High Oleic vs. High Linoleic
Woah there. What are those words?
Before diving into specific carrier oils, let’s go over a basic way to categorize them. All oils are made up of fatty acids. Some are higher in oleic acid (omega-9), and some are higher in linoleic acid (omega-6).
The fatty acid profile of carrier oils impacts how it will affect your skin or hair when you use them.
Oils high in oleic acid tend to be heavy. They’re deeply moisturizing and pair well with dry skin.
Oils high in linoleic acid are lighter, and while they’re still moisturizing, they don’t penetrate as deeply.
Like many things in life, though, what works for one person may not work for everyone. If you have very dry skin and coconut oil isn’t doing the job, that doesn’t mean that all high oleic oils won’t work. Experiment to find out which oil or blend works well for your skin.
The Best Carrier Oils & Their Benefits
High Oleic Carrier Oils
Yes, coconut oil has uses outside of the kitchen! Coconut oil has become very popular as a skin moisturizer and soother. The medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) in coconut oil are nourishing for the skin. However, this oil is fairly thick and can leave a greasy residue on the skin just after applying. It also solidifies below 76 degrees, so it can be harder to use in the cooler months. To get around this, you can whip the coconut oil or blend it with other oils.
Sweet Almond Oil
This carrier oil is rich in fatty acids, vitamins E and K, and heart-healthy phytosterols. Sweet almond oil is a very potent moisturizer—just a few drops work wonders. Again, this carrier oil won’t clog pores. It easily absorbs to nourish and revive the skin. Sweet almond oil is especially effective around the eyes. This oil can be used as a massage oil or moisturizer in homemade lotions, creams, hair treatments and more. It’s a great all-purpose carrier oil! A lighter oil, it can be used alone or blended with thicker oils.
You’re probably beginning to notice a trend… jojoba oil is full of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin E and sterols. It can help regulate the hydration of skin cells whether you have normal, oily, dry or combination skin. It’s non-greasy, since jojoba oil is surprisingly similar to the skin’s sebum (the skin’s natural oil profile). Like other carrier oils, jojoba oil can be used in homemade lotions, creams and hair treatments.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is a popular carrier oil because it’s readily available (you probably already have a bottle in your pantry). You may have noticed that olive oil has become increasingly popular in skincare and beauty products. That’s because it’s full of essential fatty acids that moisturize and soften skin. Olive oil is best when blended with a lighter carrier oil since it’s very thick and will leave excess oil on your skin if used alone.
Avocado oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. This thick oil works well for deep moisturizing, and all those vitamins and minerals help jojoba oil provide extra nourishment for the skin and hair. Since it’s so thick, you might find that blending it with sweet almond oil or another light oil creates a better texture. But there’s nothing wrong with using it on its own, too!
A little goes a long way with argan oil. This oil has gained a lot of popularity for its anti-aging benefits. It can help reduce the visibility of fine lines, wrinkles and stretch marks. Additionally, argan oil features vitamin E, essential fatty acids and polyphenols. It’s very hydrating and absorbs quickly. It can be used on skin or hair. A few drops of argan oil in your carrier oil blend are all you need to reap the benefits!
Macadamia Nut Oil
Macadamia nut oil is rich in many vitamins and essential fatty acids. It’s one of the highest sources of palmitoleic acid (omega-7), which occurs naturally in younger skin but decreases as we age. Palmitoleic acid helps keep skin smooth. Because of that, it’s a popular anti-aging aid. Macadamia nut oil is another thick oil, but its moisturizing benefits penetrate deeply, and it doesn’t leave a noticeable greasy residue.
Okay, technically not an oil, but cocoa butter works as a carrier oil for essential oils. Cocoa butter is intensely moisturizing and has become popular for soothing even the most sensitive skin types. Be warned, though, that cocoa butter may clog pores on your face.
Shea Butter/Shea Nut Oil
Emu oil is a natural source of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. It’s an easily absorbable, nutrient rich oil that is acquired (as you might guess) from the emu bird. This oil makes an excellent moisturizer and skin softener. It isn’t as thick as olive oil or avocado oil, so it doesn’t feel heavy on the skin.
Apricot Kernel Oil
This oil is packed with fatty acids, vitamins A and E, and antioxidants. Apricot kernel oil makes a wonderful emollient for even the most sensitive skin. It’s readily absorbed into the skin and hair known to revitalize, moisturize and protect without leaving behind a greasy residue.
High Linoleic Carrier Oils
Sesame Seed Oil
Sesame seed oil is a fairly balanced oil—it has similar amounts of oleic acid and linoleic acid. It also has a rich array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that all support skin and hair health. For skin, sesame seed oil acts as a protectant and promotes a smooth, youthful glow. For hair, it nourishes and strengthens for maximum volume and shine.
Rosehip Seed Oil
Naturally high in vitamins A and E, rosehip seed oil is a lighter oil that packs an antioxidant punch. It’s often used to support skin health.
Grape Seed Oil
This oil is very popular as a carrier oil for essential oils. It’s loaded with multiple essential fatty acids including linoleic, oleic, stearic, palmitic, myristic and lauric. Grape seed oil has a rich and silky texture perfect for soothing dryness without clogging pores or causing breakouts. Since it’s light, it can even be used as a conditioner.
Evening Primrose Oil
Like other high linoleic oils, evening primrose oil has a lighter texture. It’s typically used to promote a healthy complexion and youthful glow. This oil also contains gamma-linolenic acid, which is particularly useful for nourishing and protecting healthy skin cells.
Castor oil is the exception to the rule that oils high in linoleic acid have a lighter viscosity. Castor oil is heavy with a neutral to nutty aroma. Like sesame seed oil, castor oil is pretty balanced between oleic and linoleic acids. In addition, it’s a source of vitamin E and palmitic acid. Castor oil is a fantastic emollient. It’s popular for supporting soft and healthy skin and hair, and it can be used to create a “glossy” look on the lips.
Hopefully this list of the best carrier oils for essential oils gives you a good idea about how different carrier oils can affect your skin differently.
You’ll notice that almost all of them are rich sources of essential fatty acids. Well, that make sense—they’re oils! And those fatty acids make them all excellent moisturizers.
I mean, think about it... would we use them as carrier oils and skincare oils if they sucked all the moisture out of the skin instead of adding it? Probably not.
Because their benefits are so similar, it can seem like it doesn’t matter which oil(s) you pick. But many people find that one or two specific oils work best for their skin or hair, so if one doesn’t work for you just try another.
Tell us below: which carrier oils are your favorites?